The closest of the eight NCAA Division III Football Championship second-round games played on Saturday came down to the wire at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium on Saturday, as the ninth-ranked North Central College Cardinals saw the 2018 season end with a 27-24 loss to 11th-ranked Bethel University (Minnesota).
Trailing, 27-17, with just under six minutes to play, the Cardinals (10-2) narrowed the gap to three points and took possession late in the contest with a chance to tie or take the lead, but Bethel was able to come up with one final stop to advance to next weekend's quarterfinal round.
North Central owned a 10-7 advantage at halftime, as Dominick Muoghalu opened the scoring with a one-yard touchdown run and Derik Judka connected on a 22-yard field goal. Muoghalu's touchdown came after the Cardinals were set up with a short field by cornerback Braden Lindmark, who intercepted a pass and returned it to the Royals' 37-yard line late in the first quarter.
Taking possession to start the second half, Bethel (11-1) put together a 14-play, 77-yard drive that ate up 8:31 of game clock to take its first lead of the game. After an 11-yard run on fourth down to extend the series, quarterback Jaran Roste completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to John Carlson to give the Royals a 17-14 edge. Bethel forced a punt, then went 94 yards in 14 plays and scored on Roste's one-yard plunge to extend the lead to 20-10 with 12:40 to go in the game.
The Cardinals narrowed the gap to 20-17 with 6:56 to play. Broc Rutter completed a 17-yard pass to Michael Sfikas and a 25-yarder to Cameron Moore handing off three straight times to Muoghalu near the goal line. Muoghalu's third rush did the trick from one yard out, his 13th score of the season. Bethel, however, responded in kind just three plays later, as Roste connected with Drew Larsen on a play-action pass for a 43-yard TD with 5:51 on the clock.
On the ensuing drive, Rutter, standing in against a formidable pass rush, threw the ball deep to Moore, whose leaping catch near the sideline resulted in a 36-yard gain. Three plays later, on third down-and-long, Moore came up big again, making a 26-yard grab with a defender draped over him to score the touchdown and close the deficit to just three points with 4:13 on the clock.
The Cardinals forced a Bethel punt, taking possession on their own nine-yard line with 2:23 to play, but were unable to move the sticks and turned the ball over on downs.
Rutter finished the day 12 of 27 passing for 264 yards, establishing new North Central single-season records for pass completions (269), passing attempts (385) and passing yards (3,519). Moore caught four passes for 106 yards, while Muoghalu paced the ground game with 70 yards on 15 rushes. Judka, meanwhile, tied the Cardinals' single-season record for scoring with 114 points.
DJ Warkenthien paced the North Central defense with 13 total tackles, finishing his career tied for fourth in the program's history (264), while Matt Sutherland made 10 and Storm Simmons finished with nine.